• Thu
  • Jul 10, 2014
  • Updated: 3:36pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 9:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 9:58am

Fresh off the boat in Hong Kong

Since moving to Hong Kong in October, I have been frequently asked by friends from my hometown of Sichuan how I feel about locals’ “discrimination against mainlanders”. I told them I haven’t experienced out-right discrimination.


Amy Li began her journalism career as a crime news reporter in Queens, New York, in 2004. She joined Reuters in Beijing in 2008 as a multimedia editor. Amy taught journalism at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu before joining SCMP in Hong Kong in 2012. She is now an online news editor for SCMP.com. Amy can be reached at chunxiao.li@scmp.com, or follow her on Twitter @AmyLiSCMP

Since moving to Hong Kong in October, I have been frequently asked by friends from my hometown of Sichuan how I feel about locals’ “discrimination against mainlanders”.

I told them I haven’t experienced out-right discrimination.

Most Hongkongers I meet are friendly. Many have generously offered me help.

One of them is my friend Jimmy. I had met him only once before, a few months back in Sichuan while was on a business trip. Once I moved here, he and his girlfriend, both Hong Kong locals, volunteered to escort me on exhausting flat-hunting trips despite their busy schedules.

“I wanted to make sure my Putonghua-speaking friend gets a decent deal,” he said.

As soon as I settled down, my local friends, whom I had known through work overseas, offered to take me out, show me the city and advise me on adapting to a new life in Hong Kong.

One of my colleagues, after finding out my penchant for spicy cuisines, insisted on walking me to an authentic Sichuan restaurant near work.

“I hope this will make your life in Hong Kong more tolerable,” she said.

I also received acts of kindness from strangers.

A lady I sat next to on a tram car one day started speaking to me about the benefits of riding the tram – after hearing my complaint about how slow the car was going.

“We need to slow down in life and appreciate what’s out there,” she said in her not-so-perfect Putonghua. “It’s not always about speed.”

Her meaningful remarks shed new light on my understanding of Hong Kong, which is best-known for its efficiency and speed.

But I don’t mean to paint a completely rosy picture here. I admit there were moments when I sensed negative sentiments towards mainlanders.

One evening I was eating in a small restaurant in Wan Chai when several guys started shouting angrily in Cantonese at two mainland women nearby. It turned out the waiter had mistakenly served to the women dishes ordered by locals from another table.

And this apparently infuriated their friends, who continued to throw angry stares at the women after the dishes were withdrawn, even though it was obviously the waiter’s fault.

The women looked frightened and clueless. They probably had no idea what they did wrong – except for having spoken Putonghua.

It was hard to tell if it’s discrimination or simple rudeness. But thinking about what happened there still bothers me.

If one could get into trouble for merely speaking Putonghua in Hong Kong, then something is seriously wrong.

What triggered that discontent?

My sister, while visiting Hong Kong’s Disneyland with her daughter, confronted her taxi driver with the same question.

“We don’t dislike mainlanders,” the driver said. “We used to feel superior, but now we feel the opposite.”

“The Hong Kong dollar used to be more valuable,” he said. “And it used to be the Hongkongers who go on spending binges.”

“I don’t go on spending binges in Hong Kong,” said my sister. “But it’s natural for people to spend more lavishly on vacations.”

“And I spend my hard-earned money too,” she said. “Not corrupt money like Hong Kong newspapers claim.”

The man went on to tell my sister more about his family. He said his son had recently found work and moved out to live in a subdivided unit. But the driver has to continue working to pay loans and support his family.

The conversation helped to clear some of the doubts and misunderstandings for both. And on top of that, they became friends. For once, they were humans instead of a “mainlander” and “Hongkonger”.

I think we need more conversations like this. We don’t need more biased newspaper reports or finger-pointing politicians who pit us against each other by blaming every Hong Kong problem on mainlanders, or vice versa.

Without providing insights or solutions, those culprits will only turn negative sentiment into discrimination, and soon, hatred.



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This article is now closed to comments

the current tensions between HK and the Mainland are inevitable. the focus should not be so much on (idealistically) trying to eliminate the tensions or wishing them away with nice anecdotes as on managing these tensions, which means to some extent acknowledging and accepting them as a consequence of the present economic and political dynamic.
all countries of any size face internal regional tensions. it's not something to panic about. it's especially incredible for anyone to expect otherwise in Hong Kong given it's drastically different economic, political, cultural, and historical conditions from China. the lopsided power dynamic does not help either. (i'm personally confident than when Hong Kong people are given the right to freely control their destiny, they will freely choose to build increasing ties with China at an appropriate pace for society; on the other hand, the stick will only lead to insecurity and resentment, even separatism, whether consciously or not).
when HK and the Mainland become more similar, the tensions will subside proportionately - this will either happen when the Mainland becomes more politically open and liberal, as well as continue to catch up economically, or, god forbid, HK becomes more authoritarian, culturally speaking and not just politically (the politics can only get so far ahead of the culture). for the time being, it's prudent to be patient and not force two entities with very different personalities to be too close, too fast, jus
A Hong Konger
Obviously on an individual level we relate to each other as human, but there is a much deeper historical, cultural and socio-economic reasons behind the animosity, I admit (to my deep shame) that our bruised arrogance is one reason for the prejudice against mainlanders (your article is not the first time I've heard the 'HK dollar' story), but it is a way of vocalising a deeper philosophical issue in an economic way we are familiar with. HK is a place with no 'national' narrative of our own, we are, and continue to be, a colony that has always been deeply alienated from China. So when try we speak of our own aspirations to determine our future we fall flat since we have no narrative to work from, no symbols, not myths, just 'core values' that compose a 'nation' that is taboo to speak about, but not a state. Mainlanders behaving badly strikes a cord since they represent an antithesis to our 'core values' and (on some level) remind us of some of our old bad etiquette from decades ago. But on the deeper level I mentioned, all Mainlanders remind us that China, that represents our most profound fears, is here and will never let us be free to choose our own future, the sheer volume of mainlanders both overwhelm us and strike this fear that we are unable to express because we have a colonial mentality, and for HK to remain the same, must continue to have. The alternatives are to go for independence (we don't yet have the stomach for) or be assimilated into China (unacceptable to us).


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